Paul Newman's Newest Endeavor

Legendary actor's new restaurant may mean an end to his acting career.

May 24, 2007 — -- He starred as the wry, handsome train robber in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." He played an alcoholic lawyer in "The Verdict" and our hearts reached out to him. His familiar voice made us smile in "Cars."

But now, the legendary actor Paul Newman has joined forces with uber-chef Michel Nischan to create Dressing Room: A Homegrown Restaurant -- an establishment in Westport, Conn., that caters to those with a taste for organic food.

And if you travel to Millstone farm a few miles away in Wilton, Conn., you'll find the garden that provides much of the produce served at the restaurant.

Annie Farrell is what you would call a "farmer's farmer," the person you hire if you want to turn your farm organic. Farrell took "Nightline" on a tour of the Millstone farm, and Newman tagged along.

Organic Farming: Part Art, Part Science

It is clear that organic farming is part art, part science. One plant is used to help another grow. The radishes are a case in point.

"So, those radishes and turnips break the ground… they break through that cementy ground and then the carrots follow," said Farrell. "Then I'll renovate, refertilize and reseed this bed with something else."

"Do you think if we put some politicians in there they would sweeten?" Newman quipped. "Let them freeze for awhile and then they'd come up in the spring."

In fact, there is a lot of politics in the food business. After conflict in the Wilton community regarding developers who wanted to buy the Millstone farm, Betsy Fink and her husband Jesse purchased it to save it from development.

'A Homegrown Restaurant'

Newman and Nischan have put their own food politics right on their restaurant's sign. Dressing Room proudly boasts that the establishment is "A Homegrown Restaurant."

One of the principal ingredients served here is a principle of the restaurant itself -- organic food grown close to home is best. Best for the people who eat it, and best for their communities.

In fact, the restaurant sponsors a twice-weekly local farmer's market in the parking lot -- testimony to their belief that local food can build communities.

Newman relishes his time at the market.

"[There] is that real sense of community that is really disappearing in suburban towns," he said.

Dressing Room is snuggled next to the Westport Country Playhouse, where for the past 70 years great plays and great actors have traveled to perform, including Newman himself.

"Every great American actor and actress of the '40s, '50s and '60s played in that theater," he said.

His wife, Joanne Woodward, was until recently the theater's artistic director, and Newman got the idea that a new restaurant could help subsidize the theatre.

Newman has used the idea of food to underwrite good causes before. Newman's Own, his line of food products, has been fabulously successful over the past 25 years.

He put his face on the front of the bottles and gives all of the profits after taxes back to charity. And those profits are considerable -- Newman has raised over $250 million.

He also has started 10 Hole in the Wall camps, where kids who are battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases can come and play.

"I think we saw 14,000 kids last year," said Newman.

Between his many charitable efforts and now the restaurant, Newman has his plate full in many ways. Fellow actor and friend Robert Redford has said that Newman has the "attention span of a bolt of lightning."

Newman laughed off that description.

"Actually, I think that I'm the exact opposite of that. I have an extraordinary attention span. I manage to juggle two or three different ideas at the same time, and that's probably, if I have a gift, that's probably the best gift that's given me."

The Battle of the Pickle

Newman confesses he came to organic food slowly, persuaded by his daughter Nell, who now runs Newman's Own Organics.

"She was way ahead of the curve," he said. "It wasn't something I thought I had to pay attention to, but I certainly do now."

Newman's daughter also introduced him to his chef, Michel Nischan. They hit it off right away.

And while Nischan has control of the menu, Newman did insist on one item. A 22 percent fat hamburger. Naturally, it's his favorite item on the menu.

"That's what I had for lunch," he said.

And while the two say they get along like gangbusters, they do confess to one ongoing battle -- the battle of the pickle.

"The pickle has been a challenge," admitted Nischan. "I like fresher pickles -- pickled or cured for a shorter period of time. Paul really loves the sour pickles and he's really gotten me to come along to his way of thinking, which has nothing to do with the blueness of his eyes."

Newman is the victor in this debate, but he said Nischan wins everything else.

Newman's Full Plate

While offering dining staples like cheeseburgers and pickles, one item has remained noticeably missing -- steak.

"We do steak from time to time," Nischan explained, "but if you look at a dressed weight carcass of a steer at about 1,000 to 1,200 pounds, only 70 to 100 pounds of that total dressed weight carcass is steak."

Nischan said the seemingly insatiable American demand for steak is fueling dangerous and unhealthy ways of raising beef cattle.

"The leverage of that market created a system of animal agriculture that is environmentally unsound, actually destructive and very unkind to the animals that are trapped in the system. And [it's] not good for animal health and human health," he said.

"[When] you look at the way that the animals are raised, what's done with their manure for the sake of the efficiency of raising many, many … animals in a small area, there's a tremendous amount of toxins that are produced. When you liquefy manure it becomes an unusual toxin."

He said that is what happens when beef cows are not feed what they are designed to eat, namely, grass.

The Tenderhearted Meat Eaters

Nischan said the basis of any food relationship is knowing who you are getting the food from and knowing their practices. In many cases, it's good to go directly to the supplier to see for yourself, even to see how the animals are being treated.

"When you see a farmer take the life of a pig, and if you don't see some kind of remorse, it's not a good day going to slaughter. It's always a remorseful day."

Two rather rare Ginger Tamworth pigs, named Thelma and Louise, live, at least for now, in relative splendor at the Millstone farm.

Nischan said it's OK to be a tenderhearted meat-eater.

"I think the food that we eat is a personal choice, and the reasons why we eat or choose certain things have to speak to us spiritually."

But is naming the animals who will one day be dinner going too far? Farrell said caring is always good.

"I think it's really humane treatment, and when the time comes for that pig to go to the butcher, she should be handled properly and with no stress, she shouldn't vocalize, fall down, she should be handled perfectly humanely up until the second she's killed," Farrell said.

Acting -- A 'Closed Book' for Newman?

While the pigs may be taking it easy in their farm lives right now, it seems Newman never does. However, the restaurant might be the change Newman was looking for. Is the change enough that he's done with acting?

"Well, I'm not able to work anymore as an actor and still at the level I would want to … you start to lose your memory, you start to lose your confidence, you start to lose your invention. So, that's pretty much a closed book for me. And I'm grateful for the other things that have come into my life: grandkids, and restaurants and charity …l I've been doing it for 50 years. That's enough."

He continued, "I won't miss it because I know I can't work at my optimum anymore. I would miss it if I was ready to go to work and didn't get any offers."

In the end, where has Newman's success come from?

"I have a face that does not belong to a thief," he joked.

But in reality, his is a face that has charmed and delighted movie viewers for years, a face that continues to tell a story of a life well-lived … and well-fed.